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Since NEM 3.0 was enacted in April, the solar industry has experienced business closures and “depression-level layoffs." Photo by 1st Footage
Since NEM 3.0 was enacted in April, the solar industry has experienced business closures and “depression-level layoffs." Photo by 1st Footage
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Local solar experts weigh in on industry’s anticipated job losses

REGION — Changes to the state’s net metering program have caused steep losses for the state’s solar industry, according to a report from the California Solar and Storage Association.

After surveying California solar and storage companies, the solar industry lobbying group estimated that approximately 17,000 jobs have or will be lost by the end of this year due to the recent net metering changes. This massive loss of employment represents 22% of all solar jobs in the state, with more expected soon.

The layoffs follow the California Public Utilities Commission’s decision last year to revise the state’s net metering policy in California.

Under net metering, homes with solar are paid for the extra energy they generate and send into the energy grid. With the latest revisions, referred to as NEM 3.0, new rooftop solar customers are no longer credited at the retail electricity rate when they generate extra energy. Instead, they are paid at the “actual avoided cost.”

That figure is lower during daylight hours but higher during evening hours as the sun sets and solar production drops off.

According to the California Solar and Storage Association, the changes cut the value of solar energy credits by 75% to encourage customers to purchase solar battery storage instead of feeding excess energy back into the grid.

“CPUC commissioners claimed their decision was about ‘launching the solar and storage industry into the future.’ Instead, they caused the nation’s largest-ever loss of clean energy jobs, pushed once thriving businesses out of the state or into bankruptcy, and derailed California’s fastest and most accessible path to a clean energy future. All as California holds itself out there as a world leader in the fight against climate change,” said CALSSA Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro.

According to CALSSA, the net metering program reduced the costs of going solar and made California a solar leader. Since NEM 3.0 was enacted in April, the solar industry has experienced business closures and “depression-level layoffs” as new residential solar becomes less advantageous for potential customers.

“Under the old net metering policy, we used to nearly zero out someone’s electric bill,” said Kent Harle, chief executive officer of Oceanside-based Stellar Solar.

While the credits have reduced over time, Harle said the most recent changes have drastically reduced customer payback rates.

“We’ve got the highest energy rates in the country and they’re giving us basically nothing,” Harle said. “There’s no reason for these changes.”

Since the change went into effect, Harle said he has laid off a third of his company’s workforce.

While the current state of California solar looks grim, Harle believes the industry will eventually bounce back, with more and more homes going off the grid entirely as battery storage technology is forced to expand faster.

For now,  new solar is only an option for the rich, Harle said.

“It’s only accessible to the uber-wealthy,” he said. “Solar will work for a home that generates a couple thousand dollars’ worth of electricity each month, but it doesn’t make sense for a home with a $300 to $400 per month electric bill like it used to.”

While job loss was expected following CPUC’s decision, Susan Sullivan, a solar pro realtor with Solarguru Energy, LLC, is looking on the sunny side as more battery systems come online.

“To me, solar with battery is a true, complete solar system,” Sullivan said. “Even before 3.0, I was advising solar with battery solutions.”

According to Sullivan, the changes precipitate a “great and much-needed awareness and change.” She said the market is losing saturation as smaller companies either leave the state or close their doors, which opens things up for the “seasoned veterans of solar.”

Hearings began on Dec. 13 after environmental groups appealed the net metering changes, claiming the CPUC failed to consider the full benefits of rooftop solar. The lawsuit seeks to overturn NEM 3.0 and have the CPUC create a new solar billing policy.

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